by Julian Spivey
The 32nd annual Farm Aid festival benefiting family farmers in the United States took place on Saturday, Sept. 16 in Burgettstown, Penn. where the Farm Aid Board of Directors Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews were joined by Sheryl Crow, Avett Brothers, Margo Price, Jamey Johnson and more. Portions of the benefit show were telecast the same day on AXSTV.
Following are the 10 best performances from the AXSTV telecast of Farm Aid:
10. “If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow
It’s easy to forget after 25 years in the music business just how badass and a breath of fresh air Sheryl Crow was when she debuted in the early ‘90s with her brand of pop-rock. “If It Makes You Happy” from her second album in 1996 went to the top 10 on the Billboard charts and continues to be one of her best hits to this day. This was Crow’s second Farm Aid appearance, but first since 2003.
9. “Paper Cowboy” by Margo Price
Margo Price made her second consecutive performance at Farm Aid this year and it seems like she might become part of the annual family. AXSTV only aired one performance of hers, which is disappointing, but it was the incredibly “Paper Cowboy.” The song, which she performed at last year’s Farm Aid too, appears on her new EP Weakness. It shows Price isn’t going to be a one-album wonder.
8. “Find Yourself” by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Naturally as the son of Willie Nelson Lukas and his band Promise of the Real have become an integral part of the Farm Aide family. Lukas and his brother Micah have even backed up Board of Directors member Neil Young at multiple Farm Aids. Nelson & Promise of the Real performed their new single “Find Yourself” on Saturday night and prove the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
7. “Lawless Times” by John Mellencamp
It’s not unusual to see Farm Aid Board of Directors members John Mellencamp and Neil Young get political at the annual Farm Aid concerts, much to the chagrin of some watching. Mellencamp’s first performance at Farm Aid on Saturday was “Lawless Times,” from his 2014 album Plain Spoken. The song basically takes on everything and even though it’s a few years old is a perfect song for 2017.
6. “Willin’” by Jamey Johnson
Much like Margo Price it was also unfortunate to see that AXSTV edited down Jamey Johnson’s set list to only give him one performance on the telecast. That performance was actually a cover, as well, but the fact that it was a badass cover of Little Feat’s 1971 song “Willin’” was pretty cool. “Willin’,” about a road-weary trucker who doesn’t always make legal deliveries, was never a hit, but seems to be beloved by many within the music industry.
5. “Need Never Get Old” by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
If you’ve never seen Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats perform than you’re missing out on way of the most energetic acts in any music genre working today. One of their best songs is the 2016 single “Need Never Get Old,” that the group performed at Farm Aid on Saturday afternoon. It’s quite the musical experience.
4. “Crush” by Dave Matthews
Dave Matthews’ set at Farm Aid aided by guitarist Tim Reynolds, as he so often is, was the most uneven of the four Board of Directors member of the festival, but it did feature a great performance of the 1998 Dave Matthews Band single “Crush.” The rock ballad with elements of jazz and blues remains one of Matthews’ staples to this day and I was thankful to hear it Saturday as it reminded me it’s been far too long since I’ve heard this beauty.
3. “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young
Neil Young has often been criticized in the past for not really bringing out his “greatest hits” at Farm Aid. In fact, I remember one recent Farm Aid where he seemed to pretty much just play “fuck you Monsanto” songs. This year he seemingly pleased those critics with many of his best hits like “Heart of Gold,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “Like a Hurricane” and my selection here “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Young was joined by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real for the performance, featuring great guitar work on the song by Young and Lukas Nelson.
2. “Living in the Promised Land” by Willie Nelson
“Living in the Promised Land” is a song that Willie Nelson doesn’t seem to perform much. I’ve seen him in concert four times and haven’t seen it performed. In fact, Nelson doesn’t deviate from his normal set list too often and Farm Aid 2017 was really no different. But, it was the right time to play this 1986 cut, and it was fitting that Willie and his songs Lukas and Micah shared verses on the track. This is what America should be.
1. “Small Town” by John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp’s set was pretty killer. Of the four Board of Directors sets (the ones AXSTV aired most of) Mellencamp’s was my favorite from Saturday’s Farm Aid. As I was listening to Mellencamp perform his 1985 hit “Small Town” to a crowd of rural Pennsylvanians at an event benefiting the family farmer it occurred to me that it’s the quintessential Farm Aid song. “No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from/I cannot forget the people who love me/Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town/And people let me be just what I want to be.” God bless Farm Aid and the American Farmer.
If you would like to donate to Farm Aid you can do so HERE.
by Julian Spivey
The Turnpike Troubadours once again proved they’re the best band in the music business right now with another terrific show at Little Rock’s The Revolution Room on Thursday, Sept. 14.
Pretty much at this point in their career, with a fifth studio album on the way in October, the Troubadours play a set of “greatest hits” every night, which might be news to those who still don’t know who they are because they don’t receive mainstream radio airplay. Their loyal fans know them and if you happen to go to a show without following their music first you’ll understand it’s almost like a cult following as the packed audience knows every single word in the group’s discography.
The group kicked off the night with fan-favorites “Every Girl,” “7 & 7,” my personal favorite, and “Shreveport” from their 2010 release Diamonds & Gasoline. That album was the introduction for most of the Troubadours brand of literary red dirt country music and is still heavily featured in their sets.
Other great performances from Diamonds & Gasoline included “Kansas City Southern,” “Whole Damn Town” and “1968.” Even though many fan-favorites off this album were performed I would’ve loved to have heard “The Funeral,” as well, which may be front-man and primary songwriter Evan Felker’s best composition.
The Turnpike Troubadours are probably the tightest sounding band in all of country music, no matter the subgenre, and possibly music in general. Every individual in the group incredibly talented and create a unit that just sounds like they were made for each other. The music is very fiddle driven and Kyle Nix is one of the best in the business. Ryan Engelman plays some great guitar licks and I know this well as my ears will be ringing for days having stood directly in front of him. Bassist R.C. “Rooster” Edwards and drummer Gabe Pearson keep the music humming throughout and I really love that Edwards has “This Machine Kills Fascists” scrawled across his bass, in tribute to fellow Oklahoma and folk music icon Woody Guthrie. Newest band member Hank Early is a great addition on pedal steel and accordion giving the Troubadours this important steel sound throughout their set. Engelman doubled on steel before.
The Troubadours’ third studio album Goodbye Normal Street was also well represented throughout the night with fantastic performances of “Gin, Smoke & Lies,” “Blue Star,” “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead” and “Good Lord Lorrie,” which is my favorite song from that album.
Almost half of the group’s most recent release their 2015 self-titled album was played throughout the night. The rip-roaring performance of “The Mercury,” which was my top song of 2015, was one of the absolute best of the evening keeping the crowd moving throughout. “Down Here” and “Bossier City” also kept the crowd energized.
The Troubadours will be releasing their fifth studio album A Long Way from Your Heart will be released Oct. 20. The group performed two new songs from the album about midway through their set on Thursday night: “Pay No Rent” and “The Housefire,” which should have their fanbase pumped for the new release. These are typical Felker-penned song, which is to essentially say “genius.”
The Troubadours always play with a high energy that few artists I’ve ever seen can match and this may have caused Felker troubles later in the show. Honestly, Felker sometimes forgets his own lyrics when caught up in the action of a show and he seemed to have more trouble with this on Thursday than usual. Later in the show I couldn’t help but wonder if he wasn’t feeling well. The Rev Room was incredibly hot and the sold-out show being packed shoulder-to-shoulder didn’t help things at all. I honestly think Felker may have been winded toward the end of his show.
The group finished their set with a solo performance by Felker of “A Little Song,” from the self-titled release, that was dedicated to his wife, Staci, with the couple celebrating their one-year anniversary on the night. Felker then left the stage for a breather while Edwards took over vocals and Nix borrowed Edwards’ bass for a performance of the rowdy “Get Drunk, High and Loud,” which is performed frequently by the band, but has never been recorded.
The entire group reformed on stage for a sing-along to “Long Hot Summer Day,” the John Hartford-penned song that really put the Oklahoman-group on the map about seven years ago now. It’s one of the all-time great fiddle tunes.
The group briefly left the stage again before returning for a performance of “The Bird Hunters.” The performance was highlight by the fact that a couple, standing directly behind me in fact, got engaged mid-song to uproarious applause that I’m not sure the group performing onstage really understood.
The final performance of the night was a new song “Something to Hold Onto,” from the album to be released in October, that sounded like vintage Troubadours and once again should have fans stoked for the release.
The popular Texas red dirt band Flatland Cavalry opened the show for the Troubadours at The Rev Room on Thursday night with a good set from their 2016 debut release Humble Folks. One of the best performance of their set was the opening tune “February Snow.” Other highlights included “Coyote (The Ballad of Roy Johnson),” “A Life Where We Work Out” and “Stompin’ Grounds,” which was their finale. It is somewhat surprising they didn’t perform the catchy “Goodbye Kiss” from their debut. Flatland Cavalry is likely a red dirt group you’ll be hearing a lot from in the future.
by Julian Spivey
The 16th annual Americana Honors & Awards is tonight at 6:30 p.m. from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and will be streamed live on NPR.org. The Americana Honors & Awards are, in my opinion, the best music award show of the year featuring the most talented singer-songwriters in the business. Tonight’s awards will feature performances by Van Morrison, Old Crow Medicine Show, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, The Lumineers, John Prine, Drive-By Truckers, Rodney Crowell, Rhiannon Giddens, Hurray for the Riff Raff and more. Morrison, Graham Nash, Robert Cray and Iris DeMent will be among the honorees.
Below are the nominees and who I believe should win the major awards of the night:
Artist of the Year: Jason Isbell, John Prine, Lori McKenna, Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson
Winner: Sturgill Simpson
This is one helluva category to attempt to choose a most deserving winner. It’s a who’s who of the Americana genre and every single one of these nominees is deserving. My pick for winner is Sturgill Simpson because I believe he had the biggest year of these and that was proven by the fact that his album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth was chosen as one of the five nominees for the all-genre Grammy Album of the Year honor (which he lost to Adele’s 25). That nomination and his performance on the Grammys telecast showed the world who Simpson is and also showed that Americana is a force to be reckon with.
Album of the Year: American Band by Drive-By Truckers, Close Ties by Rodney Crowell, Freedom Highway by Rhiannon Giddens, The Navigator by Hurray for the Riff Raff, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth by Sturgill Simpson
Winner: A Sailor’s Guide to Earth by Sturgill Simpson
This one really should be a no-brainer and go to Sturgill Simpson’s magnificent A Sailor’s Guide to Earth for the reason I mentioned before – the album was a Grammy nominee for Album of the Year. The rest of these nominees are stellar though and there could be a shocker with the Americana Awards loving a veteran artist like Rodney Crowell or the fantastic Freedom Highway by Rhiannon Giddens. If there were to be a winner other than Simpson I would love for it to be Drive-By Truckers’ fantastic American Band. Also, I’m somewhat irritated Way Out West by Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives wasn’t nominated.
Song of the Year: “All Around You” by Sturgill Simpson, “It Ain’t Over Yet” by Rodney Crowell, “To Be Without You” by Ryan Adams, “Wreck You” by Lori McKenna
Winner: “All Around You” by Sturgill Simpson
I hate to come off like a major fanboy, but there’s good reason to believe Sturgill Simpson will dominate tonight’s Americana Awards like no artist other than Jason Isbell has in recent years. “All Around You” is an absolute beauty, though I would’ve nominated “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)” instead. This is somewhat of a weird category for me … I believe Ryan Adam’s “Outbound Train” would’ve been a better nominee. I also believe Rodney Crowell’s album had better songs. Drive-By Truckers’ “What It Means” should’ve been nominated, as well.
Duo/Group of the Year: Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, Drive-By Truckers, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, The Lumineers
Winner: Drive-By Truckers
This is another one of those categories that’s almost impossible to pick a winner from and really whoever wins the honor will be deserving. Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives probably should’ve picked up more nominations than just this category and The Lumineers are great ambassadors for Americana in that they reach out to a pop crowd without really going into a pop sound. However, Drive-By Truckers is my choice because I believe they had the second-best year behind Sturgill Simpson of any act within the Americana genre releasing perhaps their best album of their two-decade long career.
Emerging Artist of the Year: Aaron Lee Tasjan, Amanda Shires, Brent Cobb, Sam Outlaw
Winner: Sam Outlaw
This is another hard one for me to pick, but it’s really a toss-up between Sam Outlaw, who I finally decided to go with, and Brent Cobb. Aaron Lee Tasjan’s latest release didn’t really do it for me and while I love Amanda Shires as a fiddle playing member of her husband Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit her solo stuff doesn’t strike me like many other female performers within Americana. I’m basically giving this to Outlaw because “Bougainvillea, I Think” and “Trouble” have been two of my favorite songs of the year.
by Julian Spivey
The legendary Don Williams died at 78 on Friday, September 8 and it’s a death that truly reverberated around the country music community. Everybody loved Don Williams. I’ve never heard a single bad thing about him and you can’t say that for many. He was a favorite of both myself and my wife, Aprille, thanks to his timeless voice and discography filled with some of the smoothest and greatest love songs in country music history. We had the honor of seeing him in 2011 in Branson, Mo. after he un-retired following his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame and we were so thankful that he did as his show left us mesmerized. His voice was comforting and knowing that his classic songs will live on forever is a comfort, as well. Williams’ smooth vocals earned him a whopping 21 No. 1 hits during his hall of fame country career.
Here are his 10 best songs:
10. “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good”
Williams’ 1981 No. 1 “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,” written by Dave Hanner, is a prayer to the Lord to make things right for one day. The protagonist of the song needs something good in his life and if the Lord is capable of creating the world surely he could send him one good day.
9. “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend”
“Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” a No. 1 written by Wayland Holyfield from 1977, is the tale of a man who just can’t get over a lost love no matter how long ago she left. Williams’ bass-baritone vocals fit this song so perfectly, particularly the catchy chorus.
8. “Love Me Over Again”
Williams is known as a great vocalist, but not so much as a songwriter. Most of his hits were written by some of Nashville’s finest songwriters, but his No. 1 “Love Me Over Again” from 1979 was penned by himself. The silky smooth love song is one of many great romantic tunes in Williams’ discography.
7. “(Turn Out the Light And) Love Me Tonight”
“(Turn Out the Light And) Love Me Tonight” was one of Williams’ earliest hits when it went to No. 1 in 1975. The song, written by the great Bob McDill, is about pushing everything else in the world away for one night and spending time with the one you love. It’s one of the sweetest tunes in Williams’ repertoire.
6. “She Never Knew Me”
“She Never Knew Me,” a No. 2 hit for Williams in 1976 written by Bob McDill and Wayland Holyfield, is one of his best because it’s so different from much of his discography. The song is very similar to the Glen Campbell classic “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” in that it’s about a woman taking her man for granted and him deciding he’s finally had enough of it.
5. “If Hollywood Don’t Need You (Honey I Still Do)”
“If Hollywood Don’t Need You (Honey I Still Do),” a No. 1 for Williams in 1982, is one of the sweetest love songs in his career. The song, one of many hits he recorded written by Bob McDill, tells of his love going to Hollywood hoping to make it big as an actress, but still needing her back home if her dreams don’t pan out.
4. “Say it Again”
“Say it Again,” a No. 1 for Williams in 1976, is another one of the suave singer’s timeless love songs. The tune written by Bob McDill is about completely falling in love with somebody at first glance and being entranced. It’s one of the catchiest songs in Williams’ career.
3. “I Believe in You”
“I Believe in You,” a No. 1 for Williams in 1980, would also become the artist’s only crossover success when it landed at No. 24 on the Billboard Top 40. The song, written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin, tells of all of the things the protagonist does and doesn’t believe in in this great big world, but the thing he most believes in is his love. It’s a sweet love song filled with some good messages.
2. “Tulsa Time”
“Tulsa Time,” a No. 1 for Williams in 1978, is the most upbeat track in his career. The Danny Flowers written tune is about a guy who heads for the west coast and stardom in Hollywood before finding out stardom isn’t quite so easy to come by and realizing things weren’t so bad back home in Tulsa, after all. It’s a really infectious tune, featuring great guitar work.
1. “Good Ole Boys Like Me”
“Good Ole Boys Like Me,” a No. 2 hit for Williams in 1980, is one of the best songs to ever really capture the true meaning of what it is to live in the South. The song, written by Bob McDill, features perhaps Williams’ best vocal performance (which is truly saying something) and is just an all-around perfect take on the Southern lifestyle.
by Julian Spivey
I’ve become somewhat of a concert addict. Over the last decade I’ve been to numerous shows and the last few years I’ve averaged at least 10 concerts a year. So, my concert bucket list had thankfully gotten low, but there was an artist my wife, Aprille, referred to as our (she goes to these shows with me) “white whale” – Alan Jackson.
I don’t know why Alan Jackson stays clear of Arkansas, but I don’t believe he’s performed in my home state in more than a decade. So, I had to chase that neon rainbow clear to St. Charles, Mo. to catch a glimpse of this whale who performed at the Family Arena with Lee Ann Womack on Friday, September 8.
The 2017 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee performed a terrific set of hits throughout the night and boy does he have plenty of them. Over his 27-year career Jackson has accumulated 26 No. 1 hits and he performed 14 of them on Friday night.
Jackson’s “Keepin’ It Country” tour is essentially a continuation of his 25th anniversary tour that he began two years ago. It’s basically a chance for Jackson to thank his many fans over the years and play hits spanning the length of his career. The show on Friday night began with a little video commemorating this and culminated in Jackson singing part of his 1994 No. 1 “Gone Country.”
The hits wouldn’t let up for the next 90-minutes or so and the multiple-time CMA and ACM-award winning male vocalist sounded as good as ever throughout the show performing modern classics like “Little Bitty,” “I Don’t Even Know Her Name,” “Livin’ on Love” and “Who’s Cheatin’ Who.”
Basically, the only non-hit of the evening was Jackson’s cover of Hank Williams Jr.’s “The Blues Man,” which has always seemed to have great meaning to him. Speaking of Williams’, it was somewhat surprising that Jackson didn’t perform his cover of Don Williams’ “It Must Be Love,” which he topped the charts with in 2000, given that the Country Music Hall of Famer had passed away earlier in the day. Maybe Jackson doesn’t like to change his set lists up on the fly like that. Lee Ann Womack had covered Williams’ “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good” in her opening set earlier in tribute.
I did wind up having one complaint with Jackson’s show. I’m not one to tell artists what they should and shouldn’t include in their set list, but I absolutely can’t stand when artists tease fans with either medleys or abridged versions of songs. Jackson did this quite often and with some of his best songs like his first hit 1989’s “Here in the Real World,” my personal favorite of his, and “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.” Why didn’t he just perform the entirety of these songs? He didn’t have anywhere to go. We didn’t have anywhere to go. And, his set only lasted about 90 minutes, which is honestly kind of short for an artist of his stature. I sure would’ve preferred full versions of those two previously mentioned songs over entire selections of recent hits like “Good Time” and “Country Boy.”
Jackson saved his fan-favorite performances for the end of his show when he rattled off major hits like “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” three days before the 16th anniversary of 9/11, “Remember When,” “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Chattahoochee,” which was probably the winner for crowd favorite of the show.
Jackson finished his set with the popular “Where I Come From,” a No. 1 from 2001, before returning to the stage for an encore of “Mercury Blues,” which really rocked.
It was terrific to finally get the chance to see this living legend in concert.
Womack, another artist I was thrilled to see for the first time, put on a fantastic opening set that included her greatest hits, as well as a couple of tunes off her upcoming album to be released in October. The former CMA Female Vocalist of the Year winner has one of the absolute best voices in the history of country music and she really shows it off on classic-sounding tunes like “I May Hate Myself in the Morning,” the CMA Single of the Year from 2005. Womack performed many of her most well-known hits like “I Hope You Dance,” “A Little Past Little Rock” and “Never Again Again” during her opening set, while also including newer performances like 2015’s “The Way I’m Livin’” and “All the Trouble” and a cover of the Lefty Frizzell classic “Long Black Veil,” which will appear on The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone in October.
Editor's Note: This review originally appeared on a different variation of The Word in 2011.
by Julian Spivey
“The Gentle Giant” Don Williams wowed a packed house at the Tri-Lakes Center in Branson, Mo. on Saturday night (Oct. 22) with his incredibly smooth vocals that rival the best singers in any genre.
The 72-year old recently came out of retirement to go on tour when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year and honestly surprised on Saturday with his crisp vocals that sounded so good you’d think you were listening to a CD. Many artists tend to see their vocals fade with the years, but that’s certainly not the case for Williams.
The veteran kicked off his set of classic after classic with “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” a No. 2 charter from 1980, which I consider to be his best song. In today’s country music it seems every young male artist likes to tell us exactly what the South is and almost always they redneck it up or get it wrong … this song gets it right.
Throughout the concert Williams played number one hit after number one hit including: “You’re My Best Friend,” “’Til the Rivers All Run Dry,” “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good” and “Love Me Over Again.”
Some of the shows greatest performances were also number one tunes from Williams’ legendary discography like the beautiful vocals on “I Believe in You” and “If Hollywood Don’t Need You (I Do).”
Most of Williams’ songs are slower ballad like tunes, like the perfect breakup tune “She Never Knew Me,” that really showcases his timeless bass-baritone voice, hence the nickname, but he also has a few upper-beat songs like “It Must Be Love” and “Tulsa Time” that really got the crowd tapping their feet along and highlighted the show.
While playing most of his hits Williams also surprised the audience with quite a few of his lesser known songs like “I Recall a Gypsy Woman,” “Back in My Younger Days,” “In the Family” and “She’s In Love with a Rodeo Man.” His best performance of a tune that might not be known to but the most loyal Williams fans was of “How Did You Do It” from his 1998 album I Turn the Page. It’s a beautiful song about trying to get over a love that you just can’t shake.
Williams ended his set with “Amanda,” one of his fan-favorites that was also a hit for fellow country star Waylon Jennings. However, the crowd wanted an encore and Williams politely obliged with “Louisiana Saturday Night” a track that he cut, but was made a hit and is better known by Mel McDaniel.
Janie Fricke, two-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, opened the show for Williams singing many of her ‘80s pop-country hits as well as a good number of covers. Among her own hits she performed where the number ones “He’s a Heartache (Looking for a Place to Happen)” and “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy.” Fricke also performed her songs “She’s Single Again,” which she told the audience was almost cut by Reba McEntire before she recorded it, and “Do Me with Love.”
Among the covers that Fricke sang on Saturday night were Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire,” Glen Campbell’s “Try a Little Kindness,” Johnny Rodriguez’s “Pass Me By” and Conway Twitty’s “The Rose.”